The Hurricanes clinched a nail-biting 23-22 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch in a thrilling Super Rugby clash to keep the 'Canes in the hunt.
What a thriller in cold Christchurch on Saturday night! For the Hurricanes there was the warmth of victory and even the prospect of better things to come.
For the Crusaders there was the cold clutch of defeat and the possibility of prospects lost. For Hurricanes cold was gone; for the Crusaders cold got suddenly much colder and the greatest drama of the match was in the last six minutes.
Substitute Jayden Hayward burst through a gap and raced downfield to set the drama spinning. The Hurricanes were on the attack, Robbie Fruean went offside and Beauden Barrett kicked the penalty that made the score 23-22 to the Hurricanes with just six minutes to play.
The Hurricanes won a sloppy line-out, Wyatt Crockett got the ball and charged, setting the Crusaders on the attack. They went left and were close. There was a tackle/ruck, Alapati Leiua infringed and Tom Taylor opted to kick at goal.
The kick was just five metres in from touch and he missed with three minutes to play. Taylor missed three kicks at goal, the first bouncing back off the crossbar.
Barrett dropped out a long way and the Crusaders went through phase after phase. The Hurricanes, thanks largely to big Ben May, won a scrum off a collapsed maul. Scrum to the Hurricanes, but for the fifth time in the match the Hurricanes were penalised at the scum.
Penalty to the Crusaders. Right on the half-way line. They debated what to do about it and gave the ball to young Tyler Bleyendaal who was not long on the field. He kicked, the ball flew straight, the ball dropped and Conrad Smith caught the ball just infield from the crossbar.
The Hurricanes had won. The divide between victory and defeat was emotionally massive - rather like that of a final.
Earlier in the season the Crusaders had gone to Wellington and trounced the Hurricanes 42-14. This time the Hurricanes rushed up on urgent defence. The result was that they kept the mighty. creative Crusaders to just one try - a brilliant solo effort by Zac Guildford. So the Hurricanes scored two tries to one - though in fact it could have been the other way around as Conrad Smith's first try was disputed on the grounds of obstruction and the Crusaders could well have had a penalty try when they shoved the Hurricanes' scrum into illegal submission.
But that is part of the ifs and buts of a game.
Tom Taylor started the scoring with two penalties in quick succession, when Conrad Smith was penalised at a tackle and then when Jack Lam and Jeremy Thrush were offside. 6-0 after 10 minutes and the Crusaders threatened to blow thew Hurricanes away.
But Corey Flynn was offside. 6-3 after 12 minutes and then the Hurricanes took the lead.
Andrew Taylor of the effortless acceleration raced out of his own 22. He chipped, he gathered and he set the Hurricanes attacking. Julian Savea passed back inside to Taylor who raced ahead and gave to Conrad Smith who scored. There was a dispute because Savea had got ahead of Smith and between Smith and two defenders. But the try was given. 10-6 after 17 minutes.
Crockett put in a powerful tackle on Thrush which left the ball lying free. Fly-kicked on and chased by Sam and George Whitelock it produced a five-metre scrum to the Crusaders. They had the shove on and two metres from the line the Hurricanes folded. The referee allowed advantage and then came back for the penalty under the posts, when some though a penalty try was a real possibility. 10-9 after 27 minutes.
The Hurricanes were having terrible trouble in the line-out. Of their first five, three were skew and one was lost. But this time they won a Crusaders' line-out. Chris Eaton kicked, the Crusaders got a scruffy ball and started passing. It managed to reach Guildford. He danced inside Barrett and set off on a 70-metre run. He brushed Andre Taylor off and ran freely to the posts, ending with a swanky dive. 16-10 after 35 minutes. It was a splendid try.
The Hurricanes went through phases with quick passes, making progress down the left where Conrad Smith sold a dummy and then beat two defenders to score. Barrett converted and the Hurricanes led 17-16 at the end of the first half.
The Crusaders were cross and started the second half with a will. From the kick-off, Barrett kicked downfield but several Hurricanes moved ahead from offside positions, giving Tom Taylor an easy kick and he got the lead back at 19-17.
Fruean had a charge and May was penalised at a scrum. 22-17 after 51 minutes.
Altogether the Hurricanes were penalised five times at scrums. They ere well and truly beaten at them though thins improved slightly when Jeffery Toomaga-Allen came on for Reg Goodes.
At this stage it seemed momentum was all with the Crusaders till Barrett had a long break, fading for want of support near the Crusaders line. But Richie McCaw was penalised at a tackle. 22-20 after 64 minutes.
Then came this last six dramatic minutes.
Man of the Match: Wyatt Crockett was great for the Crusaders, giving them a winning chance with his scrumming, giving them a scoring chance with his tackle and then charging from a line-out. But our Man of the match is the Hurricanes' two-try captain Conrad Smith whose defence was watertight, a player of skill, courage and vision. He had every reason to enjoy the win, saying it was 'pretty pleasing to beat this bunch'.
Pens: Taylor 5
Tries: Smith 2
Cons: Barrett 2
Pens: Barrett 3
Crusaders: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Ross Kennedy, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reg Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Karl Lowe, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
By Paul Dobson